“The funniest doc I’ve seen in years and a sure-fire Oscar contender,” exclaimed Scott Feinberg from The Hollywood Reporter when he was asked about Meet the Patels. Without a doubt, it is a humorous and charming film, which definitely breaks certain stereotypes concerning Indian traditional process of the arranged marriage; it also shows that their arranged marriage is not as strict as in other, more conventional, Asian countries. This particularly holds true for the Indian community that has settled in the West. We saw the film a few weeks ago and managed to catch up with the filmmakers themselves.
What prompted you to make Meet the Patels and how did the idea evolve?
Geeta Patel: I never wanted to make the film! Ravi started making it, and let’s be honest, he needed me…So for me it was more like a social service, volunteering, if you will…
Ravi Patel: It all started with the private home video of our family trip to India… I had always wanted to document the story through comedy and make something more journalistic with me as the host, but the home video was so hilarious and we knew in our guts that the personal story was the way to go. Of course, I had to then deal with working with my parents… and my SISTER. Moment of silence.
Ravi is the storyteller while Geeta is the cinematographer, how did that work? Siblings working together, was there any tension or rivalry while filming?
GP: Well there was that time I almost murdered Ravi, but other than that, things were very cool.
RP: Never work with your sister!
GP: Haha… making this film changed our lives in so many ways, however the greatest gift was my relationship with Ravi. We are such different people, and working together was a huge challenge. Halfway through making the film, we were fighting so much that we both sat in a room and started to cry.
RP: Geets, why do you have to always tell people that I cried. Is nothing sacred?
GP: I’m just trying to convey the emotion. We just were not getting along and it was bad, like Trump being the Republican nominee-bad.
RP: Finally we realized that we couldn’t get rid of each other because we were siblings… you know, we were clearly gonna run into each other in life, a lot! So we decided we had to try harder, love each other even more than we thought we could.
GP: Years later, we finished the film, we were best friends, and our relationship was greater than I could have ever dreamt.
RP: In the process of making a film about family, we learned how to truly be one.
You were both raised in a relatively traditional household where allegiance, probity and harmony are the three pillars upon which Indian families stand. What was your parents’ reaction when you told them you would like to make a film about your family and your own nationwide quest to find a bride?
GP: They never bought the idea that we were making a film. They never took it seriously! I mean, Mom’s in her pajamas for half of it.
RP: Yeah, so when we finally showed them the final film nearly 6 years later, they were like, “What is this!” Thankfully, they were overjoyed and loved it.
Delectable yet simple animation has definitely delighted the audience; who came up with the idea and the style of the animation?
GP: I did.
RP: I did.
GP: We learned through various trials of other styles of animation and formats that the animation had to be raw and unfinished, like the footage.
RP: That’s a nice way to describe the footage.
GP: Shut up Ravi.
How did the family trip to India go? Did you enjoy filming in your mother’s homeland and meeting the family? You must have been under a lot of pressure for not being married, is that right?
GP: Loved the trip but I hated filming. The camera was so heavy and everyone kept yelling at me to stop filming. THE WORST.
RP: I loved it. I always love going to India. The pressure to get married gets easier as we realize it’s part of the experience. I usually zone out and think about life goals and things I need to buy before we leave.
GP: The pressure to get married doesn’t get to me anymore. I take three Advils before walking into any social interaction in India. It’s really changed my life.
RP: That was a joke.
GP: Ok I don’t take Advil. I take Aleve.
Do you think that, after watching Meet the Patels, people might have different viewpoints when it comes to the subject of an arranged marriage?
RP: We have seen that people come out of the film understanding the process, and many times wishing they had such a process. It’s really amazing how happy our friends and relatives are who have used this system. It really works!
GP: People seem to finally understand the beauty and romance of arranged and semi-arranged matchmaking. I think in the United States and UK, we somehow have decided that “dating” is normal. But we created that social norm, just as we created marriage in general. In truth, the secret to happiness is simply love. And Love comes in many different forms.
RP: We feel like this film has helped people open their minds. It’s created dialogue in conservative communities especially.
So what is next for you and Geeta? Another film perhaps?
RP: We’re making more films and shows together.
GP: Yes, one of the films is with Fox Searchlight and it’s a remake of our documentary!
We are looking forward to seeing the remake of Meet the Patels.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
All photos © Meet the Patels & Christina House, Los Angeles Times